New polling suggests the ANC will score even lower than expected in the 2024 election. This is the ANC’s own, self-inflicted wound. The political opposition should press home its advantage, but it is instead spending its time infighting. If the opposition is not willing to be part of the solution, it faces the prospect of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Politicians tend to have an inflated view of their own importance. It is common to hear them say that unless their party is given support at the next election, things will get worse. This might in theory be true, but if the politicians heeded their own warnings, one would expect them to have a far greater sense of urgency about getting their act together. This is true both of the governing party and most opposition parties.
ActionSA vs Democratic Alliance
The incessant squabbles between ActionSA and the Democratic Alliance (DA) stand out as perhaps the most problematic in this regard.
ActionSA has not done much to dispel the notion that it is a collector of dissatisfied and disgruntled former DA members and functionaries who have grievances to settle with their former political home. Spokespeople for ActionSA spend an inordinate amount of time commenting on internal DA affairs and criticising DA governments.
The DA is not entirely innocent. It bears culpability for not, as the senior and more ostensibly mature political player, being a calm and wise voice of reason in dealing with ActionSA. The DA is actively campaigning against ActionSA and has itself also publicly criticised the internal functioning of ActionSA.
I do not think both parties are equally blameworthy. In my view, one of the two is the greater troublemaker. But my personal assignment of blameworthiness is irrelevant to the fact that both of these parties are necessary components of any ‘Wild Dog’ or Reform Coalition that might be cobbled together in 2024. They have to get along for a post-African National Congress (ANC) dispensation to be workable.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the leaders of both parties need to get together, behind closed doors, and establish a personal rapport. Part of this process might have to involve the speedy firing of senior staff and representatives in both parties who are unable to see the other party as a partner rather than just an adversary.
Not all political parties are adversaries
A respected fellow liberal recently posted on their social media that ActionSA and the DA will naturally compete vociferously with one another – they are separate political parties, after all!
While there is some truth to this, this type of reasoning is not entirely compelling. It does not follow that all imaginable political parties must compete against all their imaginable peers. All around the world, natural alliances have formed between parties that instead cooperate and compete against other, more fitting adversaries.
This is not to say that ActionSA and the DA must not campaign against one another, but rather that they must do so in a way that is sensible for the future of South Africa, and not just immediately beneficial to the party in question. Negative campaigning must cease: replace personal and organisational criticisms with differences in policy approach. And do not compete over safe and stronghold constituencies.
ActionSA, the DA, the Inkatha Freedom Party, and the Freedom Front Plus, at least, alongside a few others, according to their statements of values, appear to fall into the pool of natural allies. They are all broadly committed to the market economy, place a premium on limited government power and accountability, and value the importance of non-racialism and civil liberties. They might have different approaches and temperaments, but they all fundamentally want a better, freer South Africa.
Pit this against the Coalition of Corruption – the ANC, Economic Freedom Fighters, Patriotic Alliance, and GOOD – all of which to various extents reject the market economy, believe government must do as it pleases to ‘get things done’, and would gladly ride roughshod over individual rights if it serves some perverse conception of the ‘greater good’. These parties have all also indicated their willingness to be complicit in keeping the gravy train going, explicitly jockeying for position and power rather than sacrificing for the good of the country.
Formal politics is not all there is
While the opposition tries to divide up political minority voters amongst itself, organised communities have already gotten their hands dirty solving the various problems associated with the collapse of municipal and central government.
As the central government’s authority collapses throughout most of South Africa as a result of its own ineptitude, communities and businesses are filling the gaps. The police have, in many respects, been replaced by private security. With time, businesses and households that can afford it will generate their own power, perhaps with the help of civic organisations. Many associations popping up all over the country are already taking over municipal services, like grass-cutting in public parks and fixing potholes.
During the mid- and late 1980s, it became clear to the National Party (NP) government that it would need to take corrective action to arrest its collapsing authority in townships and rural areas. That government could read between the lines and embarked on aggressive reforms, including repealing race laws, privatising government enterprises, and liberalising the economy.
The ANC government does not appear to share the same situational awareness as the late, reformist NP. The present political class is ceding authority and State capacity at a rapid pace without undertaking any notable reforms. Civil society is not waiting around to pick up the slack.
If the Coalition of Corruption attains under 50% of the seats in the National Assembly in 2024, the political opposition will have much destruction to reverse. If it cannot get its act together and form a real, coherent and co-operating Wild Dogs Coalition, it will either secure its own irrelevance, or ensure the Coalition of Corruption gets another term to loot. In either of these eventualities, South Africans will find a way to survive.
The 2024 election is the opposition’s to lose. The ANC is handing them victory on a silver platter. All that remains is for the reformers to put their eyes on the prize, or fade into inconsequentiality.
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